While it’s not a move people would have expected (or wanted, for a lot of fans), the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu on Friday.
Barring anything unforeseen happening, that probably locks in the Yankees infield for the 2019 season. Reportedly, LeMahieu will play a sort of super utility role, alternating between first, second, and third. Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, and other former Rockie Troy Tulowitzki will probably all get plenty of time at their positions. There will be some combination of Luke Voit and Greg Bird at first. Torres will probably get some time at short. Whoever is the odd man out that day will DH or get the day off. You can see what the Yankees are going for, even if you don’t love it.
However, Didi Gregorius will probably be returning at some point during the season. So what is exactly is the plan when that happens?
Gregorius is expected to be back from Tommy John surgery sometime in the summer. The most optimistic timeline will have him back in June, but it could just as well not be until July or August. It’s possible something—a trade, an injury, etc.—happens in between now and then, but if not, the Yankees could very well have a logjam on their hands.
The easiest, and most likely scenario is that when Gregorius comes back, Tulowitzki just gets DFA’d because he’s not that good and/or missing his fair share of games with injury. If he’s actually good, as the Yankees seem optimistic that he can be, then that complicates things.
The Yankees could just keep all five of the non-first base infielders, but that doesn’t seem that workable for three/sometimes four spots. (Not mentioned in all this is that the outfield situation is still similar to last year, even if Brett Gardner takes a step back to be a true fourth outfielder. Still gonna need a lot of at-bats at DH for whoever gets a day off in the outfield.) That leaves a trade as a possibility, but there aren’t really any great options among them there.
Tulowitzki has that weird no trade clause, so he’s not an option. If LeMahieu does well, maybe another contending team would want him. However, with another contending team, you’re probably not getting anything that worthwhile back for the 30-year old who they could have just signed in the offseason. At least, not anything useful for the 2019 season.
Trading one of Gregorius, Torres, or Andujar because they just created a logjam seems very dumb. It would be one thing if they created the logjam by signing Manny Machado, but doing so because of a LeMahieu signing is ridiculous. Maybe Gregorius makes sense as he’s in his final year before free agency, but how much are you getting for a guy recovering from surgery?
All of this could become moot if Gregorius isn’t back by the August timeline. The recovery time from Tommy John surgery for position players can be shorter than for pitchers, but it’s still an invasive surgery.
If he is back and ready to go by summer, then this team could end up being structured really weirdly. Not to mention, there’s a now non-zero chance they let Gregorius walk next offseason as LeMahieu’s deal is for two years. The signing may work out perfectly fine, but it could lead to some weird scenarios.